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Soleiman Faqiri's family hopes November inquest into his death will offer answers

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The family of a mentally ill man who died in an Ontario jail cell in 2016 expressed hope on Friday that a provincial inquest set to start later this year will provide answers about his death.

Soleiman Faqiri died on Dec. 15, 2016, after being beaten, pepper sprayed and restrained face-down in a segregation cell at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., where the 30-year-old was held awaiting a medical evaluation at a psychiatric facility.

Faqiri's elder brother Yusuf said Ontario's chief coroner's office notified the family that an inquest will begin on Nov. 20 to examine the circumstances surrounding Soleiman's death.

He said his family will finally get to learn details of what happened during the 11 days that his brother spent in jail before his death.

"Why was he there for 11 days? What was happening to him in those 11 days? Why weren't we able to see him?... My family went to Lindsay four times. We were not able to see him," Yusuf Faqiri said.

"These are the questions that we're hoping the inquest to answer, not just for my family, but for Ontarians and Canadians."

Yusuf Faqiri said his brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 19 years old and should not have been taken to jail.

"He was suffering from mental illness and instead of helping him and taking care of him, they gave him to us in a body bag," he said.

"My brother was a gifted mind. He was trilingual. He studied engineering at the University of Waterloo. ... My brother was someone with so much potential, so much promise. His mental illness was a part of him but not all of him."

Yusuf Faqiri said his family also hopes the inquest will shed light on the way Ontario jails operate, criticizing "a system that operates away from scrutiny and accountability."

Ontario's chief forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Pollanen found in a 2021 report that Faqiri died following a violent struggle in the segregation cell with the guards.

The coroner’s office had previously concluded Soleiman Faqiri’s cause of death was “unascertainable” but Pollanen re-examined the case to help inform an eventual inquest.

Pollanen found a combination of factors contributed to Soleiman Faqiri’s death.

Faqiri had an enlarged heart, Pollanen said. That and the man’s exhausting “violent struggle” with jail guards were key factors in his death, Pollanen found.

Faqiri was remanded to jail on Dec. 5, 2016, in the midst of a schizophrenic episode.

“A review of the available documents and video footage show a steep and relentless deterioration in his psychiatric symptoms during his incarceration,” Pollanen wrote.

“This decline culminated in an episode of bizarre behaviour that was documented by video footage in the hours before his death. The video footage shows Soleiman Faqiri nude and in a disorganized and agitated state.”

Pollanen said the decline was obvious not only to a physician who examined him, but also to his family, other inmates and correctional officers.

Just prior to his death, guards had taken Soleiman Faqiri for a shower. Video footage shows him lying naked on the floor. Then he is escorted back to his cell, where there is no video footage of what happened next.

“All the available information reveals that the altercation included: an exhausting struggle, prone position restraint, blunt injuries, pepper spray deployment, hand cuffing, shackling, and application of a spit hood,” Pollanen wrote.

The guards struck him in the body and head multiple times and held him face down on the floor of the cell, the report said. They also shackled his legs and handcuffed his wrists behind his back while keeping him in the prone position.

The violent struggle began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 3:14 p.m., when the guards tried to resuscitate Soleiman Faqiri, Pollanen said.

Ontario Provincial Police and Kawartha Lakes police have both conducted investigations into the case, but no charges have been laid.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2023. 

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